Economics

REVERSE ROBIN-HOOD AND OTHER INSANITIES

Donald Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris accords on climate change was nothing more than the demagogue tossing red meat to his most xenophobic and otherwise assorted white supremacist supporters. To these people, any agreement or treaty with foreign countries is a sacrilege that cannot be tolerated, and Trump, as he had promised during the presidential campaign, fed directly into their myopia and revulsion of foreign engagements. The entire world, except for 2 countries, had signed a treaty in Paris calling for a reduction of each country’s carbon footprint in order to combat the effects of global warming. The only 2 countries that abstained were Nicaragua and Syria. Nicaragua didn’t sign on because they believed the Paris Accord didn’t go far enough in reducing each country’s contribution to climate change, which is essentially true. But at least it was a start. Syria was a non-signor because tyrannical dictator Bashir al-Assad was too busy killing his own people to be bothered with such things as global warming. So far he’s slaughtered more than half-a-million and counting of his county men.  Now, the U.S. becomes the third country in this “illustrious group.” It’s an embarrassment, although I believe that Trump’s innate narcissism prevents him from experiencing such feelings. When one is so totally devoid of any semblance of compassion or empathy as Trump appears to be, embarrassment is not an option.

I have always felt, however, that ardent environmentalists often miss the boat when they focus too heavily on “global warming,” but not heavily enough on environmental degradation due to other pressing factors. Such as our rapidly disappearing rain forests that soak up enormous amounts of CO2 while putting forth similar huge amounts of oxygen. Scientists who have studied the matter estimate that there had been about 6 million square miles of rain forests at the dawn of civilization. We’re now down to less than 2 million with more acreage disappearing on a daily basis, due to lumber jacking and just the spread of mankind into these once pristine areas. Our oceans are also being severely degraded with huge erosions of photo-plankton that also emit huge quantities of oxygen on a daily basis. If you’re used to inhaling oxygen every day, it might become increasingly difficult once photo-plankton has basically disappeared from the scene. To say nothing of the vast amounts of garbage, mostly the plastic type, that currently floats on the surface of many oceans, especially the Pacific. Add the enormous erosion of top soil in most parts of the world that is needed to grow crops, and one has the perfect trifecta of ecological degradation that could end life on this planet as we know it. In my unscientific calculations, I figure we have about another 45-50 years before life on Planet Earth starts to become tenuous, unless, of course, radical changes are made to preserve what’s left of the environment. Anyone for a Mars expedition?

In other news, the Trump Administration has issued forth its budget plan for fiscal year 2018. It embodies the typical Republican mindset of taking from the poor to give to the rich. Call it the reverse Robin-Hood initiative. Under the Trump budget, significant slashes to poverty and health care programs would be enacted simultaneously with large reductions of of income tax rates, especially for upper levels of reported income. People receiving food stamps, housing assistance, Medicaid, Social Security disability payments or other similar types of government support could be in big trouble if the Trump budget is enacted. But not to worry. The top one percent of income earners will see their tax liabilities dramatically slashed. I mean, who among us is so heartless as to deny the upper one percent another chateau in Italy, or a larger private jet, or perhaps a red-colored Rolls Royce this time to go with the black one sitting in the garage. We have to get our priorities in order. Of course, in fairness to Trump, the reverse Robin-Hood scheme has been a Republican initiative since FDR’s NewDeal. Trump is just the latest in a long-line of Republicans seeking to put reverse Robin-Hood into actuality.

And finally, we have the latest in a series of horrific Islamic terrorist attacks, once again in England. As I’ve written many times in the past, the barbarians are once more at the gates of civilization, and much too little is being done to combat these religious fanatics. As the Roman Empire fell to the barbarian butchers of those ancient days, centuries ago, so could the West, in the present time, fall to the Islamic fanatics in ISIS, Al-Qaida, and other assorted terrorist groups unless it steps up its game. Rome fell because its citizenry became too bored and lazy to defend their way of life. They hired mercenaries to do the fighting for them, but these same mercenaries often turned against Rome when the barbarians outbid the Romans. As in those ancient times, there is currently little desire among western countries to undertake an all-out effort to militarily crush today’s barbarians. When Trump was campaigning, he promised to “bomb the shit out of ISIS” but so far, there’s little evidence of that happening.

So that’s the way the world is spinning these days of late Spring. I often wonder that if we discovered a planet out-there, with an Earth-like atmosphere and conditions, and it was technologically feasible to reach that planet via a space ship, how many people would sign up for a one-way voyage. Maybe, in about a thousand years such a scenario could become reality. Assuming, of course, that we haven’t already destroyed life on Earth through war or ecological degradation.

 

 

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GENETIC PREDISPOSITIONS: PART II

When I was young, (yes, electricity had already been discovered and was in general use) there was term often used by newspapers and other media to disparage or otherwise shame certain members of society. That term was “being on the dole” and it came to signify those unfortunates that were having a tough time financially and required governmental assistance to get thru the transactions of day-to-day living. That phrase originated in England in 1917 and was in reference to benefits being “doled” out by the government to generally poor souls that couldn’t otherwise provide for themselves. Since the U.S. at the time, had a hard-core, laissez-faire, capitalistic type of thinking ingrained into most people’s psyches, having to receive government assistance was considered especially shameful. The mark of a slacker, one too lazy or otherwise too indolent to provide for themselves. Indeed, according to newspapers that were published in those days, no criminal’s deeds were as heinous as that of someone “being on the dole.”

With the advent of FDR’s New Deal, however, the use of that term began to lose it’s luster. It turned out that with the creation of Social Security and Medicare legislation, virtually all seniors were eventually “on the dole,” so to speak. More social programs regarding veterans benefits, student loans, housing and other government assistance came into being, so it seemed almost everyone “was on the dole” at some point in their lives, and that inglorious phrase was eventually tossed into the dustbin of history. It was to some degree revived in a new form during the Ronald Reagan administration in the 1980s. The term “welfare queens” suddenly came into existence as racist code to denote single black mothers who were supposedly having babies out of wedlock in order to receive larger government welfare checks. When it was pointed out that the preponderance of welfare payments were being made to white people, that derogatory phrase also faded from the public forum. But the on-going efforts of the fortunate to stigmatize the unfortunate in some shape or manner continues on unabated.

This is kind of a long way around to come to the main point of how genetics is often the determining factor in the way our lives will unfold and the destinies in store for all of us. Some time back I wrote a piece called “Genetic Predispositions” which still receives “views” years later, and I thought I would update the original with additional insights. In the original, I cited some extreme examples of how one’s genes are often the determining factor of the life being led. How, due to genetic malfunction, some fetus brains are bathed in an overdose of serotonin while in the womb. Hence, when these individuals grow into adulthood, they cannot derive pleasure or comfort from those activities that normally satisfy most of us, and thus, are often likely to turn out to be brutish rapists or serial killers to satisfy their lusts. Even when the brain develops normally, genetic make-up is usually the name of the game.

Those whose DNA is formed with a talent for fiscal matters often do the best in our capitalistic society. Bankers, Wall Street brokers, hedge fund managers, entrepreneurs etc. often accomplish the most financially, and are able to lead the most luxurious materialistic lives. Not that such bountiful materialism necessarily translates into lifelong happiness and serenity. Just ask those who knew Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Michael Jackson or Whitney Houston for starters. All four of whom had not only acquired immense riches, but, also millions of adoring fans and worldwide fame; but still managed to kill themselves at a fairly young age. On the the other hand, those whose DNA thrusts them into the artistic side of human performance usually receive the short end of the stick from a capitalistic oriented society. Very few writers, artists, musicians, etc. receive just compensation for their efforts and often live in poverty throughout their lives. This could also result in early demise. Think Vincent Van Gogh or Edgar Allen Poe, neither of whom caught a break as far as public recognition of their talents while they were still alive, and who also died at an early age

Most of the rest of us are somewhere in the middle, living anywhere from relatively lower middle class, to reasonably comfortable lifestyles, depending on the talent programmed into our DNA. But what I didn’t mention last time are the environmental factors that one grows up with, that also have a huge influence on our future lives, and must be considered along with genes as one of life’s determining forces. An Irish poet put it best when he wrote that “They fuck you up your Mum and Dad; they fuck you up real good.” Those coming from abusive or dysfunctional homes where parents might be alcoholics, druggies, or child molesters, hardly have a chance in life, no matter how strong their genes may be. Some hearty, brave souls do manage to escape an horrendous upbringing, however, and go on to thrive in life.

It the end it virtually all comes down to a matter of genetic inheritance and environmental upbringing. I think, though, that genes are more of the determinant factor. As for me, at this stage of my life, I’m quite content to be “on the dole” and receive my government benefits.

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THE UN-TRUMP

As the Trump Administration lurches from one pending disaster to the next, the latest being the ill-conceived firing of FBI Director James Comey, one would think that the Democrats would have at least several young, ambitious, potential candidates to challenge The Donald in the next scheduled mud-wrestling challenge. Sadly, the Democrats appear to be too demoralized and apathetic to even enter the arena. They’re truly in a state of shambles. There seems to be no Young Lochinvar to ride in from the west on his trusty steed to save the country from the machinations of a demagogic president and his henchmen. But if there were such a bold, brazen Democratic senator for example, he or she might want to pursue the following path to a likely victory come the next election. He or she could start out by visiting college campuses and deliver the following speech.

“Good evening fellow students of LSU. I say fellow students because I am an alumni of this fine institution, being an under-graduate not that many years ago. Let me start off by saying that I am the Un-Trump. I live in a state of reality and sanity, rather than in a parallel universe of delusional paranoia. I don’t indulge in pathological narcissism, and I don’t try to cover-up wrong-doings that might of occurred on my watch with serial mendacity. I don’t indulge, every other day, in Twitter tirades against perceived critics or enemies, with all the fervor of an adolescent teen-ager whose ego has been absurdly bruised. I would not continue on the campaign trail long after the election is over, in a pathetic attempt to boost my sagging poll numbers. I would not enlist the help of Russia or any other country to hack my opponents computers or otherwise spread false news to assist my election effort. I would not attempt to bar peaceful citizens of any country, or nationality or religion from entering the U.S. for legitimate reasons. And if I am elected your president, I would not have members of the Alt-Right white supremacist movement as my closest advisors in the White House. To the contrary, I would employ the strongest of civil rights advocates. As I’ve said, I am The Un-Trump.

“And one other matter above all else. I surely would never build that hideous 2000 mile monstrosity on the Mexican border that will become known as the Trump Wall, if it does become a reality. Erecting such a barrier would not only be the biggest boondoggle in U.S. history, costing tens of billions of dollars in taxpayer money, its effectiveness in keeping out criminals or terrorists would range between negligible to non-existent. And that’s one of the reasons I’m appearing before you tonight. I need your help in assuring that the Trump Wall never becomes a reality. If, in fact, it appears that construction is about to begin on this fiasco, who among you will join me at the Mexican border to stand in the way of the tractors and earth-movers. In civil protest and disobedience, Ghandi-style. If a few thousand of us come down to the border and stand in the way of construction crews, this wall will not be built. Perhaps, if as many as 10 or 20 or 50 or even 100 thousand people show up to block construction, this hideous wall will never see the light of day. They couldn’t possibly lock up that many protesters. But remember, this would be an act of civil disobedience, with emphasis on “civil.” There can be absolutely no violence on our part, which would only serve to discredit such a protest. It must be 100% civil, the way Ghandi employed such tactics to free India from British colonial rule.

“In coming weeks I plan to visit more college campuses and other venues to elicit as much support as I can to block this impending insanity. So I ask, one more time, who will join with me in this act of conscience. Let me see a show of hands. Ahh, good. I see most of you are willing to support me in this crusade. It bodes well for the resistance. If it keeps growing, we can end all this craziness within a few short years. Remember, above all else- I am the Un-Trump.”

Alas, it appears, however, that there is no such young Democrat on the horizon that has that kind of energy and inventiveness. You might say Bernie Sanders; but he would be about 78 come next election, which really is too old. Elizabeth Warren is a possibility, but she’s not exactly a spring chicken herself. Lacking a Young Lochinvar, all you young people are faced with the bleak likelihood of enduring the Trump insanity for 8 long years.

One other thing. The crude vulgarity that Trump employed to fire James Comey was beyond comprehension, even for Trump. Comey had to learn about being dumped from a third party source as he was about to give a speech. It was obviously in retribution for the ongoing FBI investigation into the Trump team’s collusion with Russia to alter the final election results. The unceremonious firing was ironic also, since it was Comey that handed Trump the election victory on a silver platter. It was Comey, who 12 days before the election, stated that the FBI was re-opening it’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails processed on a private server in Clinton’s basement. If Comey had kept his mouth shut, Hillary would now be sitting in the Oval Office. And for that, the thanks that Comey received from the president this past week was to be sacked as if he was the janitor in the J. Edgar Hoover building in Washington D.C.

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FRANCE CHOOSES SANITY

How come the French were able to act so rationally when it came to their run-off presidential election held yesterday, while the United States behaved so badly in its presidential balloting held last November. How come France, by a two-thirds vote margin, was able to elect the candidate of moderation and common sense instead of the one pushing an agenda of white supremacy, economic supra-nationalism, and favoritism toward Russia’s tyrant Vladimir Putin, while we in the U.S. did just the opposite. Perhaps it’s something in the drinking water; or the outstanding quality of French wines.

In yesterday’s presidential run-off election in France, independent moderate Emmanuel Macron easily defeated National Front far-right candidate Marine Le Pen to win a 5 year term. At age 39 Macron is the youngest president in French history. His campaign rested on reviving France’s sclerotic economy which has been virtually on life-support since almost the end of WWII. France’s unemployment rate is more than double that of the U.S., and its economic productivity and growth rates are less than half of that in this country. Marine Le Pen’s demagoguery regarding those issues, however, never caught fire during the French campaign the way Donald Trump’s demonizing of those matters in the U.S. gave him an unexpected victory. Le Pen promised, if elected, to pull France out of the European Union, renounce the euro in favor of the franc, deny entry to Muslim immigrants fleeing into Europe from the Mid-East, and cozy up to thuggish Vladimir Putin in Russia while dis-engaging from NATO and the EU. Almost an exact female replica of Donald Trump. She called herself a “nationalist” as Trump’s key advisor, Steve Bannon, has described himself. In both cases, the term “nationalist” was code for white supremacist.

Of course, Le Pen was fighting a huge uphill battle to begin with. Her father, Jean Marie Le Pen, who had founded the National Front party in the 1970s, was notoriously bigoted, especially toward Jews. He was a Holocaust denier exhibiting a distinctly fascist profile. Marine tried to scrub off her party’s bigotry, but her whitewash job didn’t work as well with the French electorate as it did here in the U.S. with Trump’s demagoguery. Perhaps the fact that France suffered for five years under the heel of a fascist tyranny until liberated by the Allies a mere 72 years ago might have been a factor. A five year span when virtually every French Jew was rounded up by French quislings and sent to Nazi death camps. In any event, Macron won handily as Hillary Clinton should have done in the U.S. election, except for monumental Democratic incompetence and blunders.

So now, instead of living with a Clinton Administration of moderation and rationality, Americans are forced to cope with the right-wing agenda and hysterics of the Trump follies. Jeff Sessions, the arch-typical white southern bigot from Alabama that Trump made his Attorney-General, wants to deny the growing number of states that have legalized marijuana, the right to do so. He would still have the Feds go after and prosecute marijuana sellers as well as buyers. (Whatever happened to the GOP’s insistence on “states rights.”) And forget about anything resembling civil rights enforcement coming out of the Justice Department. Meanwhile the top priority of the moment for Trump and his Republican Congress is to repeal and replace Obamacare. They shoved such a bill through the House, which is long on repeal and minutely short on replace. So what if the poor that can’t afford health insurance become gravely ill. I guess they should just curl up in a ball and die somewhere, so as not to bother us righteous folk that do have health insurance. Some 20 million people that were able to sign up for Medicaid under Obamacare, as minimal as that is, are now in jeopardy of losing that coverage under the Republican proposed legislation. Supposedly, the GOP plan will be drastically overhauled when the Senate takes it up.

And the beat goes on. Next up on the Trump agenda is income tax overhaul. The proposed legislation is once again distinctly Republican. Heavy tax cuts for the rich, with a few crumbs tossed to the middle and lower classes. Trump in this instance is following Ronald Reagan’s formula of large tax cuts for the upper classes while substantially increasing our military and defense spending. The same formula that started us on the road to the $20 trillion budget deficit this country now so sublimely endures. How does that line go- the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Trump, always the comfortable occupant in his parallel universe of delusional paranoia, recently said words to the effect that a government shut down is needed in this country, and is long overdue. Current appropriations to keep the government running expire on September 30 of this year. Congress must appropriate and the president must sign new legislation to keep the government operating for the new fiscal year starting October 1st. Trump has threatened to veto any new appropriations that don’t contain funds to build his myopically insane border wall with Mexico, or don’t slash funding for agencies that he considers useless such as the National Institutes for Health, or the Environmental Protection Agency and a host of others.

These and many, many other examples are the consequences of a Trump versus a Clinton regime in the White House. The consequences of less than a hundred thousand votes going the wrong way in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Anyway, congratulations to the French for finally doing the right thing. After the Brexit vote in England, and the Trump victory in the U.S., it seemed like the end of Western civilization as we know it; but France has shown that it doesn’t have to be so. Perhaps we should all move to France.

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THE ACCIDENTAL PRESIDENT

It’s late 2015 and Donald Trump is having a small gathering at his penthouse at Trump Towers in Manhattan. His family is there including his children and grandchildren, as well as some friends and associates his known over the years. The conversation invariably begins to dwell on politics and how the upcoming 2016 primaries are starting earlier and earlier. Suddenly, Donnie Jr. loudly comments that- “You know, Dad, you could take another run at it. It’s not too late to get your name on the ballot for the Iowa caucuses.” “Right,” replies Trump. “Because it worked out so well for me in 2012.” But Donnie Jr. is persistent. “The only reason that went bust was because you let Corey talk into running as a “birther.” (He’s referring to Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s campaign manager in 2012, and the first half of the 2016 campaign.) “That was a losing issue from the beginning. There just wasn’t enough true believers in the Republican base to convince that Obama was secretly born in Kenya. Besides this time, you would be running against Hillary, a much weaker candidate than Obama ever was.”

“This time you can focus on the stuff that has the Republican base all in tizzy,” continues  Donnie Jr. “Like all the Mexican illegals pouring over the border. Most Republicans really hate that. And ISIS terrorism and the flood of Moslems coming into this country as well as Europe are certainly issues to rile people up. Look at the recent attacks in Europe and California. Both of these areas could give you plenty of traction in the primaries.” “I don’t know Dad,” injects Ivanka, speaking for the first time. “Aren’t there like 20 guys running for the nomination. How are you going to stand out from the rest.” “By being different than rest, and politically incorrrect” declares Steve Bannon,” a close associate of Trump over the years, and head of the Alt-Right propaganda outlet called Breitbart News.  “I mean, look who he would be running against. Jeb Bush? Give me a break. Not only has his time come and gone maybe a dozen years ago, but I don’t believe the country is ready for still another Bush in the White House. Ted Cruz? Outside of Texas, his drawing power is diddly-squat. Rubio? Too young and inexperienced. The rest are just political pigmies.”

Trump turned to Melania seated next to him, and said- “You know, the kids pretty much run the business on a day-to-day basis as it is. It’s not like I don’t have the time.” “But you would be out campaigning for about the next year,” she protested. “I’d still make time to come home to you, every now and then,” Trump replied. Melania did not look pleased, but said nothing. Turning to everyone else Trump declared that- “If I did do this, I’m not going to spend a lot of my own money, I’ll tell you that. It will be a like a take it or leave proposition. This is who I am, take it or leave it.” And the rest, as the cliche goes, is history.

Trump entered the Republican primaries with 16 other potential candidates. His ratings alongside the others stood at about 5%. That’s when he decided to be as politically incorrect as possible, as Steve Bannon had advised. He denigrated Senator John McCain’s service to his country when he was captured and held prisoner by the Viet-Cong in the hellish “Hanoi Hilton” for 6 long years. Trump stated that he- “liked people that weren’t captured.” (I’m still trying to figure out in what universe that’s a coherent statement.) When Megyn Kelly, Fox News host, was critical of him during a debate, Trump stated that “she had blood coming out of her whatever.” He said that Mexico was deliberately sending us “their rapists and murderers,” and promised to build a 2000 mile long wall to keep them out. He said he would bar Moslems from entering the country, and would “bomb the shit out of ISIS.” (I’m still waiting on some action concerning that last promise.) But the more outlandish the Trump remarks were, the more his poll numbers shot up. From 5% to about the 35-40% range.

Because Trump’s comments were considered so utterly vile, NBC fired him from their “Celebrity Apprentice” show. Macy’s fired him from being one of their spokespersons. But a large chunk of the Republican base really liked what they heard. Every white supremacist organization from the KKK on down considered Trump “their kind of guy.” The “Bikers of America” flocked to the Cleveland Convention Center to provide the necessary protection and muscle to assure that for the first time in their lives, they would have a kindred spirit occupying the White House. To this day, the large and growing white supremacy movement in the U.S. maintains nothing but adoration for Trump and his cohorts.

Despite his demagogic appeal to white racists and bigots, Trump still would have lost the election had his campaign not suppressed the voter turnout amongst blacks, Latinos and other minorities that normally vote Democratic. As I’ve said many times, elections are often decided more by the people who stay home and fail to vote, then by the numbers that do cast a ballot. The Trump campaign cast Hillary in such a derogatory light, that many voters that would have normally turned out for her were too discouraged to make the effort. Also, of course, if we didn’t have this unfathomable electoral college system, Hillary would be occupying the Oval Office today.

I wrote last time about the upcoming French presidential election (this Sunday), where the female version of Donald Trump is trying to use the same tactics of voter suppression on her opponents base. Marine Le Pen, the candidate of the far right, who hopes to become the new French president, is telling her opponent’s base voters that it’s not worth their effort to come out and cast a ballot on Sunday.  It would be much more pleasant for them to take a liesurly stroll in the park. Interesting to see if that tactic will work a second time.

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THE FRENCH CONNECTION

No, I’m not writing about the excellent movie, a few decades ago, that dealt with drug dealers and won numerous awards. Instead, this piece is about the recently concluded presidential election in France, and its remarkable similarity to the U.S. balloting concluded last November. The only thing different about these two elections is the role reversal of the major candidates. In France the female candidate is the white supremacist, xenophobic candidate while her male challenger is the voice of reason, moderation, and sanity. The irony of these 2 electoral predicaments  couldn’t be more stark.

France has a slightly different method of voting than the U.S. In their first round of balloting held this past Sunday, 11 candidates ran for the office of the presidency. With so many choices it was predictable that no one would receive the 50% threshold level needed to avoid  a run-off. So on May 7, a second round of voting will take place pitting the 2 highest vote-getters, Marine Le Pen of the National Front far right wing party against Emmanuel Macron, an independent moderate. One could rightly view Le Pen as a female version of Donald Trump, as she is running on a platform of anti-immigration, white supremacy, withdrawal from the European Union, demonizing minorities, and cozying up to Russia while abandoning relations with other Western countries. She wants to withdraw from the euro as France’s currency and reinstate the franc. Macron, conversely could be considered a male version of Hillary Clinton as he seeks to strengthen ties to the EU, as well as strengthening France’s famous safety net for the poor and disadvantaged. He would keep the euro in French circulation. Right now, political pundits in Europe are claiming that all French citizens that are not neo-fascist will coalesce behind behind Macron and give him an easy victory in the May 7 round of balloting. Trouble is, these are the same pundits who predicted that Clinton would coast to a sure victory over Trump. London bookies were giving 5 to 2 odds on Clinton being the next president.

Marine Le Pen, aged 47 and twice divorced mother of 3, inherited the mantle of the National Front party from her well known father, Jean Marie Le Pen, who got the ball rolling on the far right of the political spectrum in France in the early 1970s. At first considered a fringe lunatic, Le Pen and his party has slowly gathered steam over the ensuing decades to the point that his daughter is now on the threshold of becoming the next French president. What held Jean Marie himself back from achieving that goal, was his openly virulent brand of anti-semitism. He would often pooh-pooh the fact that the Holocaust ever occurred in the first place, or that 6 million Jews perished in Nazi concentration camps. He stated that a 500 page book on WWII would hardly devote 2 pages to the gas chambers, so inconsequential was their existence. It appears that there was still enough decency in France to not allow that type of rhetoric to occupy its presidential palace.

Marine Le Pen, learning from her father’s mistakes, has down-played the National Front’s overt Jew-hating. Instead she focused her bigotry on the surge of Muslim immigrants trying to flee to Europe from the nightmare wars and acts of terror on-going in the Mid-East, especially Syria. As Trump attempts to slam the door shut in the U.S. to any further Muslim immigration, Le Pen campaigns on enacting the same Muslim prohibitions in France. As Trump’s demagoguery against Muslims (and Mexicans) gained big-time traction in the U.S. among white voters, Le Pen’s anti-Muslim rhetoric has found favor among a large chunk of the French voting populace. (At least she hasn’t expressed any anti- Mexican sentiments thus far.) While it’s true that France and Germany as well as other European countries are being swamped with immigrants from the Mid-East, it must be remembered that these people are fleeing for their and their family’s very lives; and to deny them safe refuge exhibits a special type of heartless disregard.

Some years ago, a movie called “Ship of Fools” was produced based on a real life occurrence that took place shortly before the out break of WWII. It told the story of a group of German Jews attempting to escape Nazi persecution, and hiring a cruise ship to transport them to a safe harbor in some foreign country where their lives would not be in jeopardy. They literally sailed around the world looking for a safe port of debarkation but every country refused them entry. Including the U.S., which then had Franklin Roosevelt as president, supposedly a great friend of the Jews. In the end, they were forced to return to Germany where they were then slaughtered in the Nazi Holocaust. Such was the mindset of their fellow human beings around the world.

So, it will be interesting to see if Marine Le Pen, like her fellow demagogue, Donald Trump, can parlay French fears of being overrun by Moslem foreigners, into the presidency of her country. If she does, it will have huge adverse consequences not only for Europe, and the EU, but for the U.S. as well. But perhaps this time around, the French will exercise better common sense and sanity than Americans did last November, and elect the candidate of decency and humanity to their highest office.

 

 

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“WHERE HAVE ALL THE FLOWERS GONE….”

I’m one of those people that faithfully reads the obituaries every day in the morning newspaper. Perhaps it’s because, as the old joke goes, I’m checking to see wether my name is listed there or not. Well, this morning’s obits had a bit of surprise for me. Listed as one of life’s casualties was a person that I had gone to college with named Reuben Goldstein, so many decades ago. He too was my age and born and raised in Brooklyn, but unbeknownst to me, was living in Las Vegas well before we had moved out here. I guess we were like two ships passing in the night. How unfortunate.

In those days of yesteryear (as the Lone Ranger might have said) I went to City College in Manhattan. It’s now called City University of New York or CUNY. Living in Brooklyn, I had to walk 12 blocks to the nearest subway station and take the train for about a 45 minute ride into Manhattan. A total joy in freezing cold, or rainy or snowy winter days. This station was elevated (above ground) and Reuben was often already there for the morning commute before I had arrived. When he saw me approaching, he would call out my name and shout that he would wait for me even if a train was pulling into the station to pick up passengers. And so he waited until I arrived and we then took the next train so that we could commute together and avoid the loneliness and monotony of those daily subway rides.

Reuben was not a great student as I came to realize when we sometimes did homework together after class. It turned out to be mainly a case of me helping him cope with subject matter that seemed to baffle him. In the end I wound up doing most of his homework in addition to mine. It wasn’t long after I graduated, that I latched onto a cushy assignment in Europe for three years (which I’ve written about in previous pieces) and lost complete contact with Rueben. That is, until now, when his entire life’s journey is summed up in a very brief paragraph in the daily obits. How sad. In those days, tuition at City College amounted to a $10 registration fee per semester for New York residents. When I had to spend $50 each term for school books, (used, of course) I considered it an outlandish rip-off. A subway ride initially cost a nickel then, and when it was raised to a dime, New Yorkers howled in protest, as if they were being slaughtered by Jack the Ripper. I don’t even want to know what obscene amount is being charged today. Garbage was picked up 6 days a week, even in poor neighborhoods like the one I grew up in. Now you’re lucky if they come around once a week. Is this what they call progress?

The title of this piece is taken from a song made famous by Peter, Paul, and Mary. It’s an anti-war song about loss and death, which Reuben’s passing made me think of. Speaking of P,P,&M, the wife and I saw them perform here in Las Vegas when they were well into their sixties, or perhaps older. I’ve often written that Las Vegas is where dead performers can come back to life. For a fraction of the price that it would cost to see a headliner like, say, Celine Dion, perform at a strip hotel, one can see a has-been  perform at an off-strip hotel. Think Frankie Valli, and the Four Seasons. And so it was with Peter, Paul and Mary, who were well past their prime when we saw them go on stage at one of the local hotel/casinos. Peter and Paul were in reasonably decent shape but Mary had aged considerably. I remember in her youth, with her long blonde hair and bangs tossing about as she performed on-stage with huge vibrance and vitality.  Now she had gotten fat with multiple ailments and had to walk on-stage using two canes and sit while performing. Their voices were a whisper of past glories. The audience sat there respectfully, knowing it was likely to be the last time they would come together on-stage. Mary, sadly, would die not that long after, at the premature age 72. And so goes the cycle of life and death.

Today I also learned that a man my age, who lived in my community, and who we used to socialize and play cards with, also just died, this time from cancer. Add one more to the obits list. Indeed, where have all the flowers gone. Turned to dust, every one.

 

 

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A MASSACRE IN SYRIA

The recent chemical warfare attack that brutal tyrant Bashar al-Assad recently launched against his own people, that killed 89 and wounded hundreds more, is not the worst of the war crimes against humanity that Assad is responsible for. The Syrian civil war that started in 2011, almost exactly 6 years ago, to depose the tyrant from his throne, has led to horrific casualties on a massive scale. Over half a million Syrians have been slaughtered during this time, and millions more have been displaced. Some have been able to emigrate to the safety of Europe where they have been, by and large, accepted by various European countries, most notably, Germany, France and Sweden. A few thousand Syrian refugees have even made it to this country; but if Trump gets his way, that door will soon be slammed shut. The vacuum created by this civil war has also  allowed barbarian terrorist organizations such as ISIS and Al-Qaida to flourish and perpetrate their own set of killing fields. There are hardly words to describe the on-going evil, and tragedies of events continuing to unfold in Syria. But suffice to say, it’s easily the worst holocaust of the 21st century.

Assad took over the reigns of power in 2000, when his father, who was the same type of tyrannical, despotic ruler, died. By 2011, most Syrians could no longer tolerate the brutality and lack of freedom, and an armed rebellion began to take shape. During the period of his dictatorship, however, Assad had accumulated a huge arsenal of chemical warfare agents. His total ruthlessness and lack of conscience showed that he would not hesitate to use that arsenal against his own people, and before long, he did just that. It should be noted that chemical warfare weapons were first developed during WWI and used against the Allies by Germany. But it was soon discovered that these chemical agents inflicted such anguished pain and suffering upon its victims before finally killing them, that it became unbearable for both sides of the war to tolerate. This led to an oath by all antagonists to ban the use of chemical agents as a weapon of war. Even Hitler didn’t use chemical agents during WWII. But obviously, Assad had no such compunctions when it came to combatting opponents of his regime.

The first time Assad used these horrific chemicals on his fellow Syrians, the Obama Administration supposedly strongly protested and threatened a military response. But Assad used them again, consigning more Syrians to a torturous death. To avoid military retaliation, a deal was worked out between the U.S, Russia and Syria. Assad would ship his entire arsenal of chemical warfare agents to Russia, so that he could never again use them again against Syrian rebel contingents. At the same time, President Obama warned that he was drawing a red line in the sand that forbade any further use of chemical warfare in Syria. Such use would surely invoke an American military response against the Assad regime. But guess what. Assad realizing that under Obama, the U.S. was really just a paper tiger, once again consigned more of the opposition to an agonizing death through the use of chemical warfare. Apparently all of Assad’s stockpile had not been shipped to Russia. And to make matters worse, the Obama Administration failed to invoke its promised military retaliation, even though Obama’s red line in the sand had been so recklessly crossed.

Interestingly, Trump, who at that time was obviously eyeing a run for the White House 3 years later, went on Twitter to warn Obama not to take any military action regarding Assad’s brutality against the rebels. Even then, his “America First” and the hell with the rest of the world philosophy was on display. During his presidency, Obama often stated that Assad must go before there could be any semblance of peace in Syria. But since Obama failed to hire any grown-ups to advise him on foreign policy, Obama’s weak indecisiveness led to a refusal to employ U.S. military forces when a world situation called for such a military intervention. Interestingly, it was the most extreme right-wing members of Congress such as Ted Cruz,  that applauded Obama’s failure to act. Assad had guessed right-the U.S. was a paper tiger.

Now that he’s been elevated into the presidency, Assad’s latest chemical warfare adventurism has shocked even Trump’s conscience, and that’s saying a lot. So last Friday Trump order his Navy to launch a cruise missile attack against the Syrian airbase that carried out the latest chemical attack. Unquestionably, it was better than any action Obama had undertaken during his 8 years in office. But it was still more of a token response since minimal damage was inflicted. No further U.S. military action is anticipated. What is needed is around-the-clock bombing of all of Assad’s air bases until his entire air force has been destroyed. It would send a powerful message not only to Assad, but to his Russian and Iranian sponsors and co-contributors to his despicable tyranny. Very unlikely to occur, however.

President Obama offered one very simple truth while he was in office. He stated that America “was the one indispensable country” on Earth. It’s time, however, for us to start acting that way. We, unfortunately, co-exist with an entire cabal of bloodthirsty tyrants that occupy much of the planet’s surface. There’s Vladimir Putin who rules Russia mafia-style and is responsible for the deaths of thousands in the Ukraine; the Islamic fanatics that control Iran and have murdered tens of thousands of Iranian dissidents; the nut case that reigns over North Korea and has also killed tens of thousands while turning that country into a giant concentration camp. The rulers of China are also not prizes and have blood on their hands. If the U.S. doesn’t stand strong against these forces of evil, the freedoms we take for granted in the West could rapidly begin to disappear. The world would then begin to resemble George Orwell’s dystopian novel, “1984.”

I’m an old guy, so I’ve had a life. But for all you young people out there, I don’ think “1984” is a world you would look forward to living in. What do you think?

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A TEST OF PURITY

Back in the day, there used to be a commercial that proclaimed that Ivory soap was about 99 and a half percent “pure.” (The other half of one percent was presumably alien DNA.) That commercial rang a bell in my mind as I watched the fiasco of the proposed Republican legislation in Congress to repeal and replace Obamacare go down in flames last week. It seems that for a hardcore of about 30 looney-tunes GOP right wing representatives in the House that call themselves the “Freedom Caucus,” the replace part of the proposed bill was still far too generous. Why some poor soul, somewhere in the country, who was desperately sick and couldn’t afford health insurance, might actually receive a bit of medical treatment on the government’s dime under the Republican plan. Can’t have that. How does that kind of scenario benefit the rich? So, despite extensive lobbying by Trump and his consiglieri’s, this hardcore band of 30 right-wing whackos would not budge in their opposition to House Speaker Paul Ryan’s proposed bill because it still contained some minimal benefits to assist the unfortunate. Only total repeal would meet their objections. In the end, Ryan had to pull the bill  off the House floor in order to avoid an embarrassing defeat. Obamacare, as muddled as it is, still remains in place.

First a few rather obvious observations. Trump, who, essentially believes in nothing but the enhancement of his own ego, couldn’t care less about the details of the proposed legislation. During the recently concluded campaign, at one point he promised “health care for everyone.” That promise quickly dissolved with the morning mist as Republican insiders and contributors to his campaign reminded him that such action sounded an awful lot like universal health care, which has been a Democrat initiative over many decades. So Trump, in the end, was willing to settle for repealing Obamacare, which he had described as “absolutely horrible,” and perhaps replacing it with some inexpensive token gesture. Ryan and his Republican cohorts would have gone along with that, but the problem was, that there is also about 30 so-called “moderate” Republicans from competitive districts who would have faced daunting re-election prospects in 2018 if the Republican plan didn’t contain at least some substance in the replace part of “repeal and replace.” In the end, the two Republican factions could not reconcile their differences, and legislative disaster loomed ahead like the massive iceberg appearing before the Titanic.

Make no mistake- the Ryan plan was still all about removing the poor from government health care subsidies. About 20 million previously uninsured poor have been allowed to sign up for Medicaid in 31 states since Obamacare took hold. (The other 19 states, all hardcore Republican in the South and Mid-West, essentially gave the middle-finger to those unable to afford health insurance. Their philosophy is that if you’re too poor to afford to be covered, and you become seriously ill, just quietly curl up in a ball somewhere and die. But please don’t bother us good, God-fearing folk that can afford insurance.) In any event, the Ryan plan would have put the kibosh on any further expansion of Medicaid, even in states willing to do so, and slowly begin whittling down the number of newer enrollments. There would have been a total reduction in government health care subsidies to the poor, along with a reduction of taxes on the rich. Hey, one needs to get his or her priorities in proper sequence. But even these cut backs were not enough for the so-called “Freedom Caucus” who still feared that someone somewhere would be receiving a government handout.

As I discussed in a recent piece, the only legislation that would provide universal health care to all would be a single payer system run by the government. Every civilized country in the world provides its citizens with such blanket coverage. Even tyrannical, despotic governments such as Cuba or N.Korea provide universal health care. In France, its system is so extensive that a nurse comes to a woman’s house for up to five days after she’s given birth to a newborn child. Yet, somehow, we can’t afford that level of coverage for all Americans. Many years ago, I personally knew a man that moved to Canada so as to take advantage of its state provided  medical system. Although he was only middle-aged, he had a number of serious life-threatening, health-related issues, and could not afford insurance or related doctor’s bills. In Canada, at that time, one had to be a resident for 18 months before they qualified for the state-sponsered system. He sweated it out for 18 months, receiving barely minimal medical treatments for his conditions, that he could hardly pay for; but he did survive and was finally able to receive the necessary care for his ailments, free of charge. Under whose moral value code is it necessary for an American to move to Canada in order to attempt to save his life.

I lay the blame for opposition to something as sane and rational as universal health care in this country, to the poison that’s been pouring out of electronic media for the last 30 years, by crypto-fascists such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham, and a host of other, similar, far right, looney-tooners. Americans have been sold a bill of goods over the last 30 years that everything that’s governmentally sponsored is inherently evil. It wasn’t always thus. In the 1970s, Republican president Richard Nixon proposed a form of universal health care to Congress, and that time it was the Democrats that fucked it all up because they felt it wasn’t extensive enough. So much for politics in this country.

In any event, a band of Republican far right-wingers in the House was enough to sink a very bad piece of legislation to begin with, and deprive Trump of the victory his ego so voraciously craved. The bill just wasn’t pure enough for the “Freedom Caucus” to support. It certainly wasn’t as pure as Ivory soap.

 

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ON FRAUDS AND FACADES

A wise man once told me that “you are what other people think you are.” Actually it wasn’t a wise man but a college friend who went on to major in accounting. Still, some pretty sage advice I thought. All of us, but especially men, put on an exterior veneer or facade that we present to the outside world that often doesn’t jibe with the beast we know that is lurking within us. A beast that men go to great lengths to keep locked up in some deep dungeon within our psyches, but that could, nevertheless, become unleashed given the right set of circumstances. When it is unleashed, it usually results in mayhem or some criminal form of behavior or both. So most men keep a tight lid on it and maintain their facade of civilized politeness, poise and calm. To cover up the feeling that deep, deep down we’re essentially fraudulent as well as being rotten to the core.

When I think back over the experiences I endured during my misspent youth, I realize now what extraordinary lengths I engaged in to impress the world at large of what a civilized and engaged human being I was, although just the opposite was true. I went to school, not to obtain an education, but because it was required by law. Besides, what else would I do with my time. I was a mediocre student at best who put in just the minimum effort needed not to fail the course. By the time I reached high school, my philosophy of life was just to slide by with as little effort as possible. No fuss, no muss. During my latter years of high school I could have probably quit school; but that would have meant having to look for and obtain a job. Oh, the horror, the inhumanity. At least as long as I stayed in school I could live on my parents dime, as poor as they were. The concept of having to get a job and work for a living terrified me more than the boredom of having to go to school.

My modus operanti in getting through school was to pick a classroom seat in one of the back rows, and behind some kid bigger than me. Then I would bob and weave during class time, hiding from the teacher behind the larger figure in front of me, so as not to get called upon to answer some question I was totally unprepared for. Once in awhile, when the teacher posed a real easy, generic question, I would shoot up my arm and virtually demand to be called on. It was my method of engineering the facade of being an eager and engaged student after all. Once, however, during a high school algebra class, my instincts failed me and I was on the verge of being exposed as the fraud I really was.

First of all I hated math in general and algebra in particular. It was the middle of June during one particular algebra class, (in those days school didn’t end for the summer until June 30) and an extremely warm day. The window was open and and I could hear kids voices and laughter as they were frolicked on the school playground. I was being lulled into a state of tranquility and, thus, let lapse my bobbing and weaving strategy to avoid being called upon. The teacher had written some long equation on the blackboard and was looking for someone to provide the answer. I could have no more solved that equation than I could have taken a space ship to Mars. But, as I’ve said, due to a mental lapse in strategy,  I became an open target.

The teacher suddenly spotted me and it was as if he instantaneously understood that I had taken great pains to avoid being recognized all semester. He loudly called my name and demanded that I solve the equation. He knew he had me trapped like a rat and that I was about to be exposed for the fraud I really was. He was practically salivating in anticipation. My head began swimming as I realized that I was being doomed before the entire class of over 30 students. Now, as fortune turned out, in the front row sat a boy who always wore the same football jersey to school every day, or so it seemed. It was a purple jersey with a large white 8 on the back. It was the last thing I saw as everything became blurry and I thought I would pass out. Finally, in desperation, I blurted out-“x equals 8.” The teacher suddenly froze with a look of great consternation on his face. The piece of chalk he held in his fingers dropped to the ground. “How did you do that,” he exclaimed. I immediately knew that I had gotten the fat part of the bat on the ball and quickly regained my composure. “Why, through deductive analysis, of course,” I calmly replied.

Thus, being saved from this near death experience, I managed to get through the rest of high school, and go on to college-again, mainly to avoid having to become employed. I probably would have continued to grad school after college but my parents finally drew a line in the sand, as far as them providing me free room and board. After getting married and holding down a somewhat stressful full time job, I did go for my masters degree; the hard way- by going to school at night while engaged in a full time day job. I guess I became more serious about life as I aged, although I never became a barn-burner consumed with overriding ambition. That will never happen in this lifetime, especially now that I’m in my senior years.

The long and short of it is that we are, as my friend said so many years ago, what other people think we are. In that vein, we employ the necessary facades to cover up the fraudulent elements within all of us.

Categories: A malfunctioning psche, Brexit, Donald Trump, Alan Greenspan, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz, John Kasich, presidential polls,, Economics, human affairs | Leave a comment

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